Way back in 2007 or 2008, I got really into Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I don’t want to say I was one of the best you’ve ever seen but at the time, I could play Free Bird and Through the Fire and Flames on Expert above 90% so…..
One day around this time, I walked into a GameStop just to aimlessly pass some time while I waited for my brother to get done with his haircut. I started playing the Guitar Hero demo they had setup in the store and the GameStop employees quickly noticed that I wasn’t just some n00b (I’m pretty sure I’m using that right). Anyways, after a couple more songs, the employees started telling me I should come to the store’s Guitar Hero tournament in a couple weeks. I was so excited until I asked my parents and they said no. I don’t remember the exact reasoning but it was something along the lines of spending too much time playing video games. Whatever. Well come to find out, the Guitar Hero tournament had a grand prize of $5,000. Turns out I could’ve made some money “playing video games all the time.”
This was just a small anecdote to first, brag a little bit about my Guitar Hero skills, and secondly, to provide a hook so that you would read my blog post about eSports, or electronic sports. While games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have fallen out of style, games like League of Legends (LoL) have skyrocketed in popularity and are helping bolster one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
For those that are unfamiliar, LoL is this kind of game…
…which is essentially a 5-on-5 battle to destroy the opposing team’s base.
I’ve never really played these types of games and truthfully, after my Guitar Hero phase, I haven’t really been as into video games in general. So it was surprising to me when I turned on ESPN last year and saw a video game tournament on the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.” But for those that have been paying better attention, eSports is the next big thing and it’s going to take over sooner than you think.
Websites such as Twitch and now Youtube Gaming provide sites for gamers to stream themselves playing video games like LoL and these streams routinely generate over 100,000 viewers. But what really shows the rising popularity of eSports is the annual League of Legends Championship. In 2013, the LoL championship sold out the Staples Center in under an hour. A year later, it sold out a 40,000 seat World Cup stadium in Seoul and also drew over 27 million online viewers. The winners of the 2016 LoL Championship won $5.07 MILLION DOLLARS. The players on the top eSports teams have truly reached celebrity status with fans buying jerseys and other merchandise of their favorite players.
The following video is the opening ceremony of the final round of the 2016 Championship. It’s a little long but just skip through to see how big the crowd is and how official the whole experience is from the theatrics to the commentating.
It truly is difficult to wrap your head around how large of an industry eSports has become. According to a 2014 study, about 205 million people watched or played eSports in that year. That means that if the eSports community were a nation, they would be the FIFTH largest nation in the world. And with the rapid growth in popularity in the last few years, I can only assume that that number has inflated in proportion.
It is difficult to really determine the reasons behind the rapid rise of eSports but many have attributed it, at least in part, to the international presence of LoL. The sport attracts teams from the Americas, Asia, and Europe and is only spreading to more places.
Companies and investors have begun to take notice of the emergence of eSports. Amazon purchased Twitch (mentioned earlier) for $970 million in 2014 and YouTube has just purchased Faceit, an eSports platform that allows users to organize competitions online, in the “biggest eSports investment yet.” Meanwhile, companies such as Redbull, Samsung, and HTC have sponsored teams in order to advertise to this growing community. Former NBA star Rick Fox owns an eSports franchise and said that he sees “LoL on track in the coming years to sit comfortably at the table with the major four sports in the U.S.”
Even financial institutions are taking notice. In 2016, Goldman Sachs valued eSports at $500 million and expects the market to grow at 22% annually compounded so that by 2020, it will be over a $1 billion industry.
So it’s safe to say that eSports is coming, whether you’re ready for it or not. Soon, you will turn on SportsCenter and see interviews from LeBron James, Tom Brady, and the best eSports players in the world.
Maybe my parents should have let me play more video games after all….